In a rather stunning turn of events, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has abruptly done an about face and plans to solicit bids to build as many as 15,000 travel trailers divided among as many as five manufacturers to be used as emergency housing.
A notice posted on a government website said that FEMA “intends to order a minimum quantity of 100 units from each successful offeror with ability to order a total of 15,000 units (divided equally among the successful offeror) over a five-year period.”
As recently as Oct. 30 during a hastily called meeting with RV industry executives, FEMA Program Manager Ryan Buras indicated that the agency would not buy trailers other than in “extreme” circumstances.
FEMA has cited as the reason the high formaldehyde levels found in a relatively small sampling of the 120,000 travel trailers used in 2005 to house victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Several lawsuits against FEMA and a number of RV manufacturers who supplied FEMA trailers are pending in U.S. District Court in Louisiana.
Buras, contacted today (Nov. 25) by RVBusiness, declined to comment on the sudden turnaround.
Still unclear is whether some of FEMA’s requirements for the trailers are unachievable and violate codes under which travel trailers are now built, reported Bruce Hopkins, vice president of standards and education for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), among those who attended the October meeting.
“It’s absurd,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know that anybody in the industry will be interested in bidding on these trailers. FEMA operates in a vacuum and then they come out with these silly things. Right out of the box, they want all-electric appliances and 100-amp service, which is against the code.”
Moreover, FEMA requires that formaldehyde emissions be no greater than .016 ppm after each trailer is strenuously tested for six days.
Hopkins said he is not aware of any RV manufacturer that is now building trailers to a .016 formaldehyde standard. Although there are no laws or regulations governing formaldehyde in RVs, RVIA earlier this year adopted a less stringent formaldehyde standard that goes into effect the first of the year in California.
FEMA currently has tens of thousands of trailers in storage because of high levels of formaldehyde gas detected in six of 520 units tested by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The preliminary notice was posted on fbo.gov (Federal Business Opportunities) Saturday with the stated intention of putting out a proposal request on Dec. 8.
An amendment to the notice posted this morning made it clear that bids submitted by recreational park trailer manufacturers “will be considered non-responsive and will not be evaluated.”
Among FEMA’s requirements:
• During six days of testing by an independent third-party inspector, trailers must achieve a level of less than .016 ppm.
• Units will not include holding tanks or optional accessories.
• The first trailers will be needed “preferably within 14 days” of the contract award.
• No luan, MDV, vinyl gypsum or product that contains urea-formaldehyde (glue) will be allowed.
• Units will be a minimum of 30 feet long
• A 14-cubic foot frost-free electric refrigerator with freezer shall be installed in addition to an electric furnace and a 13,500 BTU ducted roof air conditioner.
• Units must be designed to have a minimum of 35% air exchange with the outside each hour.